In the fast-paced world of technology, where computer processing power doubles every 18 months or so, three years is an eternity. In just the past year, we've seen the rise of streaming video, and most of us now know that "the cloud" doesn't always refer to the weather. All of which raises the question: Where will home technology be a few years hence?
While we probably won't be talking sports or having tea with companion robots, we will witness significant changes. For starters, Parks Associates projects that more than 20 million U.S. households will have some type of central control or home automation system in place over the next couple of years. Systems that preside over (and provide 24/7 remote access to) entertainment, energy management, lighting, security systems and even home healthcare devices will become more commonplace and, unlike today where systems that perform specific tasks are often self-contained islands, they will share a common home network.
A New Era of User Control and Simplicity
The seeds of change have already sprouted. The familiar pushbutton remote is slowly giving way to apps that allow consumers to use their smartphone or tablet as a remote control for A/V equipment and many other devices in the "connected home." This trend will continue to gain momentum. CEDIA's "ESC of 2016" report, which looks at future technologies that will drive the business of electronics systems contractors, predicts that "the Internet-connected mobile device [led by the smartphone] will become the master remote control, replacing proprietary touch panels and keypads."
At the same time, voice control and gesture control will become more prevalent. Voice control is on the launch pad (Apple's Siri "personal assistant" is one example) and gesture, which has a foothold in video gaming, is starting to appear in smart TVs. Instead of flipping switches and tapping buttons, the idea is we'll utter a few words or wave a hand to turn on a light, play music or trigger any number of other household applications.
And the age-old bugaboo of software and hardware setup will also become less arduous five years out. Apps for smartphones and tablets will automatically sync with home electronics, freeing us from confounding setup routines and making it easy to customize and personalize system control.
The Network Hub and a Growing Cloud
The smart home of 2016 will have at its core a robust Home Area Network (HAN) that ties together all household electronics. "Systems will rely more heavily on network communications, locally and to the cloud, for control, content distribution, and general communications," according to the CEDIA report. Wireless technology will play a key role as the number of products based on Wi-Fi and other protocols increases significantly. Whole-house or "distributed" audio systems, in particular, will flourish as affordable wireless systems continue to proliferate and cloud-based media services become the dominant form of paid content distribution.
WALL-E at Home?
In five years, some experts expect residential robotics to make inroads in the form of "augmented human functionality," according to the CEDIA report. Robots will be more widely used for lawn care, pool maintenance, floor cleaning, and other household tasks and, a new generation of humanized robots that will answer questions, control home electronics systems and take care of routine physical tasks will begin to emerge.
As more and more Americans reach retirement age and beyond, technology related to home health will also play a larger role in the smart home, with sales of digital health technology solutions, including sensor-based home monitoring systems, expected to approach $6 billion by 2015.